It’s Been a Great Ride

By Debbie Hersman

Deborah A. P. Hersman, Chairman
Deborah A. P. Hersman, Chairman

I arrived in the nation’s capital over two decades ago as a college intern believing that government can do important work on behalf of the citizens of this great country.  After nearly 10 years at the National Transportation Safety Board, I will depart Washington with the knowledge that the traveling public is the beneficiary of an accountable, transparent government agency with a great mission focused on saving lives and preventing injuries.

I look back at the hundreds of investigations and recommendations that have been issued during my tenure at the NTSB, and I have seen the landscape of transportation safety improve before my eyes.   Today training standards for transportation professionals are more rigorous, federal safety oversight exists for the rail transit industry, work schedules for pilots, locomotive engineers and truck drivers allow for more rest opportunities, the majority of states ban texting behind the wheel, and all but two states have passed booster seat laws for young children.  These changes and so many other safety improvements are the result of industry, labor, advocates, regulators and legislators all working in their particular spheres of influence to make travel safer for people that don’t always appreciate the risks they face.  The NTSB and often, the families of victims, have served as critical catalysts for bringing about change after a terrible accident.  It has been an honor to be associated with a noble mission that has at times inspired and evoked passion and at other times, been in the crosshairs of controversy, as real change doesn’t come without a cost.  I want to thank President Obama for entrusting me with this tremendous responsibility.

If you are lucky in life, you get a chance to have a dream job. If you are really lucky, you get to have more than one dream job.  I look forward to continuing to improve the safety landscape with the Board of Directors and employees of the National Safety Council, another organization dedicated to saving lives and preventing injuries.  And yes, I know how lucky I am.



Hersman served in the Administrations of both President Obama and President Bush.  She was confirmed unanimously in 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2013 by the U.S. Senate under both Republican and Democratic leadership.

During her Chairmanship, Hersman focused on accountability, integrity and transparency. She elevated the stature of the NTSB with external stakeholders and the public by tripling the number of investigative hearings and public events hosted by the NTSB each year; completing many major accident investigations within 12 months; and revamping the agency’s public and media presence through strategic use of digital communications. Her efforts also enhanced the NTSB’s international relationships, increased advocacy efforts with key stakeholders in government and industry, and elevated the treatment of families of victims of transportation accidents. Her leadership resulted in a more powerful voice for the traveling public.

Hersman will continue to lead the agency until April 25th.  Vice Chairman Christopher Hart will serve as Acting Chairman upon her departure.

16 thoughts on “It’s Been a Great Ride”

  1. Congratulations on terms well served and a job well done. Best of luck on the next leg of your journey!

  2. Both you and your talent for this job over the past decade will be sorely missed in this industry. We’re awaiting 6-8 inches of fresh snow here in Chicago, so it’s probably a good idea to wait til next month before you visit the windy city.

  3. Thank you for all the hard work you and the Board do to improve transportation safety. I wish you continued success in the future.

  4. I wish Ms. Hershman the best in her new position. She has been a fantastic NTSB Chairman and will be sorely missed.

  5. I cried when I learned of Chairman Hersman’s planned departure from the NTSB in April. Ms. Hersman’s leadership, professionalism, and integrity have been among the most extraordinary and inspiring examples in all of government. I thank Chairman Hersman for the many accomplishments and standards she has achieved at the NTSB. I salute Chairman Hersman, and offer her my best wishes for success and happiness in all of her future endeavors.

  6. Thanks for being the chairman. You will be missed. Would you consider fixing the United States. How about eight years as President. I look forward to seeing you and your family making a difference in what ever your future holds.
    Roger Burris

  7. I remember the 2009 redline subway train crash in Washington, DC. I was not on that train but I was on the train, two train before that one. I remember seeing you on television, later on that evening. You were talking about the investigation into the crash. I remember thinking, there is Deborah Hersman she will find out what really happened. You are the face of the NTSB and you will be missed. Great success in your new endeavor.

    Take care

  8. I have been impressed with the leadership you have brought to the NTSB. I am sorry to see you go. Enjoy your next challenge!

  9. I hope you get to see this comment Debbie.

    I just wanted to say that I watched you handle the media on the Asiana 214 accident with enormous grace and professionalism. I think you did an amazing job of communicating facts clearly to everyone. I especially appreciated how you would read back the question before answering and then if there was any confusion about the question asked you would clarify.

    Comparing that to the recent goings on in Malaysia, it is clear we have been enormously lucky to have someone like yourself in this position.

    Thanks to you, and your colleagues, for all the hard work you do. It is rare that we get an opportunity to tell you that we appreciate it.

    I wish you all the best in your new role. Thank you!

  10. As a pipeline safety advocate from before I saw a neighborhood in San Bernardino CA burn down from a pipeline skipping a hydrostatic test after a train derailment, I have been aware of, and very much appreciated the work of the NTSB. Your comments during the conclusion of the Marshall MI & San Bruno CA pipeline accident investigations were to the point.

    My father was also a private pilot, and the work of the NTSB has also aided safety in that field immensely. NTSB Reports of all types are to the point, and explain what the average person needs to understand about an issue.

    Yes, thanks to you, and your colleagues, for keeping focused on safety, despite all the distractions & sideshows of politics going on.

  11. We at WMATA will certainly miss your presence. You singlehandedly raised the level of professionalism with your dedication to making sure the correct processes and policies are in place. Good luck to you in your next endeavor.

  12. Deb Hersman, The day you handed me the NTSB’s guidance on how to help teens become better drivers, I went straight home and shared it with my kids, all of whom are now driving, and (fingers crossed) driving safely. You may feel lucky for having run the ship at the NTSB for the past few years, but the rest of us, who are the beneficiaries of the standards you set there, we are the lucky ones. I know you will continue to make the world a safer place. God go with you. Christine

  13. Debbie, Congratulations on your new position. They are lucky to have you. I sincerely thank you for all your work and compassion regarding the Alaska Ranger’s sinking. It’s been 6 years ago today that I lost my dad. I appreciate all you and the NTSB did for me and my family.

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